On Sunday, January 17th, the Guatemalan Army used violence, including a major tear gas attack, to obstruct the journey of a migrant caravan that set out from Honduras on January 15th. According to several different estimates, the caravan is made up of approximately 9,000 people, including many women, children, youth, and human rights defenders. Different types of injuries have been reported due to the military repression. Moreover, news has been confirmed of a massive deployment of the Mexican National Guard on the southern border of the country with the aim of intercepting the caravan.
The situation has been compounded by a heightened xenophobic discourse against migrant people in the news media, social networks, and institutional settings, fuelled by the context of the panic generated by the COVID-19 health emergency.
These acts not only represent a flagrant violation of the right to freedom of movement –a right recognized by the United Nations– but also a risk to the security of all the participants in the caravan, including journalists and human rights defenders. Precedents exist of violent repression against previous caravans, including acts of criminalization against journalists and rights defenders who have accompanied them, disseminating information about the situation and documenting human rights violations.
During recent years, migrant caravans have been an alternative for thousands of Central American families and individuals who seek better life conditions in other countries. In the majority of cases, people have fled situations of institutional, social and economic violence in the land of their birth, and such situations have been significantly aggravated by the syndemic engendered by COVID- 19 and the devastation produced by the hurricanes Eta and Lota.
For these reasons, IM-Defensoras and the National Networks for Women Human Rights Defenders in Honduras and Mexico call on all governments, especially those of Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States, to order an immediate troop withdrawal and to respect the right to freedom of movement for all people who make up the caravan. We hold these governments responsible for the safety, security and integrity of all participants and urge them to provide humanitarian resources, such as food, health and lodging that may be necessary to guarantee safe passage.
We call on all government leaders and other public figures in the region to adopt a responsible attitude with full respect for human rights in their statements, ensuring that at no time will xenophobic postures be justified or encouraged.
We also call on the news media to show responsibility in the dissemination of information, avoiding journalist coverage with speech that stigmatizes or criminalizes migrant persons.
And finally, we reiterate our Mesoamerican call to sustain, support and stand in solidarity with the journey of all persons in our region who are leaving behind their ancestral homelands in search of better life conditions for themselves and their families.